[Remember that even though I work for IBM I am an individual with my own thoughts and ideas. Anything I write here may not necessarily represent the views of the IBM Corporation or its partners... though I'm hoping that's only a matter of time before they catch up.]
It seems just a while back that the big news about social media in business was how to block everyone from their social accounts. Now businesses have discovered that there just might be some advantage to being a part of the social scene.
This makes sense if you think about it, and may be a sort of remedy for what many claim to be a great impersonalization of business. I remember when I was a kid and my mom would take me to the local department store. She always spent time talking to the staff, who were not the sort of nameless faceless "helper for the moment" int he big box stores. These were people who had been with the store for a while and would be there for a while. Going to the store was not just to do an efficient exchange for goods, it was social time. We bought things from our friends.
Of course, it's quite a bit different now. One of the games I play when I go to the store is to see what sort of eye contact I can make with the person checking me out. Of course the system is set up against us from the start. The clerk has to spend all of their focus on finding bar codes and looking a their secret screen. When they are done I have to spend my time with my little secret screen. We are largely fulfilling our roles in the transaction, and the surly line behind me would not tolerate me slowing the process in order to have a human moment. (They can barely wait for me to get things back into my wallet and pick up my bags!)
Of course people are beginning to form relationships differently now. A number of things seem to conspire against us to be social animals in our work. Rather than interacting with each other and accomplishing tasks together we tend to interact with our tools. (The other day someone asked me what I do all day and my first thought was "I write email.") So, tools have evolved to allow us to chat and play games with each other across a network rather than across a table. People make up for the virtual nature of these relationships by using video and pictures. There is urgency to these communications as people get almost real-time sharing of experiences and responses. For example, I remember taking a few photos while hiking with my family in a State Park. The tools on my phone made it easy to quickly post the interesting ones. I received immediate responses from people who saw the photos. They actually participated on my hike. I've had other situations where photo or a comment that I posted resulted in immediate recommendations from people who were familiar with where I was or what I was doing-- participation from people who are not present. It's a different sort of socialization, but it works.
So, how does a business get involved in this sort of thing? How do we capitalize and participate in this virtual world and become a part of it? It's not going to go away. Just like so many technologies of the past, the universe has changed forever. W3C, the group that maintains the HTML standard and many other things, is hosting a "jam" starting November 8. The goal is to discuss openly this new animal, social business, and to examine its implications and requirements. Doing business "socially" is a lot more than turning the marketing folk loose on Facebook. Yes, that will be a part of the plan, but there need to be ways that you can communicate opportunities to customers with the same responsiveness and urgency that people share hiking photos. We need standards to make this sort of thing possible. I feel good about this being hosted by W3C, because they have a good track record on looking at everything from the center. This is bigger than any one company.
The jam will include an open discussion among people from many levels of social business. There is also an interesting list of guest speakers. Essentially, it's a chance to go to a virtual conference to wrap your head around the future of social business, and it's free. I've registered at the web site and have been working to clear my calendar for the days of the event. I think this is going to be one of those mind-warping events that leaves me seeing the world in a different way.
I hope you'll take a little time